With about 750 days remaining until the Millennium Development Goals expire, the process to replace those goals with a new global development agenda is well underway, and various U.N. gatherings have featured discussions on updating these goals.
These conversations usually take for granted that the MDGs were successful. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon went so far as to say in the introduction to a report on the MDGs published in July that the MDGs had been “the most successful global anti-poverty push in history.”
But were they, in fact, successful? Answering that question is fundamental to ensuring that the current debates focus on the most important thing: how to make a real difference to the lives of the world’s poor.
Most assessments of progress on the MDGs have set too high a bar, by asking if the extremely ambitious goals have been achieved in full (they haven’t), or too low a bar, by asking if progress has been made towards the goals (it has). The right bar is to ask whether the rate of progress was in fact faster after the MDGs were created than it was before.
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